Multan Sun Temple

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Sun Temple of Multan
CountryPakistan Pakistan

The Sun Temple of Multan was a temple dedicated to Surya, the Hindu Sun God, in the city of Multan. It commanded significant fame in the subcontinent as a place of pilgrimage and wealth under Hindu as well as Islamic rule before being destroyed in the late tenth century. It appears to have been reconstructed, before being purportedly obliterated by Aurangzeb.

The location of the temple remains unknown to historical certainty; however, it is distinct from the Prahladpuri Temple.

Hindu Legends[edit]

The earliest extant Hindu text to mention of a solar cult is Samba Purana (c. 7th–8th century CE) — the associated legend made its way into the Bhavishya Purana and even a twelfth century inscription in Eastern India.[1][2]

After being cursed into a leper, Samba had urged Krishna to restore his youth, who noted of the Sun-God (Surya) alone to have had such abilities.[2] So, acting upon the advice of Narada, Samba left for the forests of Mitravan on the banks of Chandrabhaga, which already served as the sacred lands of Surya.[2] There, he propitiated Surya into appearing before himself and secured boons of cure and eternal fame.[2] In return, Samba had to set up solar temples; Bhavishya Purana mentions that Surya had specifically instructed to be installed at the banks of Chandrabhaga, as His perpetual abode.[2] The next day, Samba would receive an icon of Surya while bathing, and subsequently, the first Sun-temple was established in Sambapura.[2]

Sambapura has been since identified with Multan—and the temple with the eponymous institution—but Heinrich von Stietencron disagrees.[2] He notes that formerly, it was not the Chandrabhaga but Ravi that passed by Multan; the original town must be at some yet-undetermined site.[2] Alternatively, the Puranic legend must be a recent interpolation.


The antecedents of the temple remain unknown to historical certainty and André Wink speculates it to have borne Buddhist and Zoroastrian influences.[3]

Hindu-Buddhist Rule[edit]

During Hsuen Tsang's visit in 641 C.E., it was the only solar temple in Sindh; for a comparison, Tsang had noted 299 Brahminical temples, a majority of which were of Saivite sect.[4] He wrote:

[V]ery magnificent and profusely decorated. The image of the Surya-deva is cast in yellow gold and ornamented with rare gems. Women play their music, light their torches, offer their flowers and perfumes to it. [..] The kings and high families of the five Indies never fail to make their offerings of gems and precious stones.

They have founded a house of mercy, in which they provide food and drink, and medicines for the poor and sick, affording succor and sustenance. Men from all countries come here to offer up their prayers; there are always some thousands doing so. On the four sides of the temple are tanks with flowering groves where one can wander about without restraint.

Umayyad Conquest[edit]

After the conquest of Sindh by the Umayyad Caliphate in 8th century C.E. under the leadership of Muhammad bin Qasim, Multan fell after a long siege and the Brahmin dynasty was replaced.[4][5] Al-Biruni writes that the Sun Temple was spared after bin-Qasim came to know about its prominent role in the regional economy but a piece of cow-flesh was mockingly hang around the neck; a Sunni mosque was also commissioned.[5][6] Al-Baladhuri's Futuh al-Buldan (c. mid-9th century C.E.) did not speak about any defilation or erection of mosque; he merely noted that all wealth—thirteen thousand and two hundred maunds of gold[7]—were confiscated from what was the preeminent site of pilgrimage for local Sindhis, who used to shave their beards and head before circumambulating it and offering riches.[5][a]

Centuries later, even Ibn al-Jawzi—a noted polemicist against heretical practices (c. 13th century C.E.)[8]—would note Qasim to have had spared the temple in lieu of rights to a third of its revenues.[5][b] Pilgrims were apparently compelled to pay a sum between one hundred and ten thousand dirhams, adjudged according to their financial capacity: a third went to the Muslims per Qasim's agreement, another third went to the maintenance of city facilities, and the rest went to the priests.[5] 'Ali al-Shatibi al-Maghribi's (fl.1465 C.E.) history of Arabia reproduces the same details except a third of revenue did not go to Muslims but to the poor.[5]

In Chach Nama—which purports to be the translation by `Ali Kufi (13th century) of an early eighth century Arabic text, but was probably an original[9]: 4–15, 20  effort—we have construction of the temple attributed to Jibawin, a devout Brahmin ruler who had supposedly buried enviable treasure underneath it; the idol was so lively that Qasim mistook it for a man, and he obtained thirteen thousand and two hundred mans of gold upon excavation.[9] This gain of treasures —by loot or revenue— would lead to Multan being regarded as the "Frontiers of gold" by Arab geographers, well into the fourteenth century.[5][7]

Arab Governors[edit]

Multiple Muslim sources—from voyager-historians like Al-Istakhri, Al-Maqdisi, Al-Masudi, Ahmad ibn Rustah and Ibn Hawqal to encyclopedists like Ibn al-Nadim—note of the temple esp. in the late Abbasid phase.[4]

Istakhri (early 10th century C.E.[10]) noted the temple to have been located in the most populous part of Multan between the city's ivory and copper-smith bazaars.[6] The idol—wholly draped in red leather except for the eyes, studded with gems[c]—was placed under the cupola and commanded pan-sectarian reverence.[6] Adorning a crown of gold, it sat in a "quadrangular position" on a brick throne with fists in the gyan mudra, rested on knees.[6] He also described how the temple was leveraged by the Muslim rulers as an indemnity against potential invasion by neighbouring Hindu powers.[3][6] Al Masudi, a contemporary of Istakhri,[11] reiterates this strategical use of the temple; besides, he notes the ritual offerings—consisting of money, precious stones, perfumes, and especially aloe-wood of Kumar—as the greatest contributor to state revenues.[3][6]

Ibn Hawqal, yet another contemporary,[12] reproduced Istakhri's narrative in toto but supplanted some details from his own travels: all revenue were forfeited to the Amir who ensured that the priests had sufficient means.[5][6] Rustah, yet another contemporary, found the temple to be a significant source of revenue especially with rich people dedicating their property to it.[13] The idol was made of iron and 20 yards (18 m) in length; it was offered with rice, vegetables, and fish.[13] Al-Nadim's contemporaneous[14] account in the encyclopedia, noted hordes of diseased people to be among its devotees who prayed for a quick recovery.[4] He also noted the temple to be a 180 yards (160 m) tall and the idol, 7 yards (6.4 m).[13]

Overall, the temple continued to maintain its prominence under patronage by Muslim Governors, in what Finbarr B. Flood, an art-historian, dubs as a regime of "mercantile cosmopolitanism";[d] Y. Friedmann, a scholar of Islamic History, interprets the evidence to attest to the accordance of Hindus with the status of dhimmi.[5][15] Despite, there appears to have been a total loss of financial autonomy when compared to the days immediately after the conquest.[5]

Ismaili Emirs[edit]

With the increasing influence of Fatimid Caliphate in the frontiers of Persia, arrived Jalam (var. Halam) in 959 C.E., to replace the old Da'ai who had not only exhibited "reprehensible syncretism" by allowing neo-converts to maintain their traditional practices but also disputed the noble origins of Fatimids.[16] Jalam took to preaching Isma'ilism aggressively and obtained success;[e] he would have the ruling dynasty switch their allegiance from the Abbasids to Fatimids soon.[4][f]

C. 965 C.E., a letter from the Fatimid Caliph congratulated Jalam on destroying a (unknown) temple and constructing a mosque on the site.[15][4] This has been understood by some to refer to the destruction of the Sun Temple, esp. in light of Al-Biruni explicitly holding Jalam responsible for the event and assassination of all priests, writing only a few decades hence.[4][g] However, Maqdisi —a pro-Fatimid geographer— who had visited Multan c. 985 C.E., reiterated Istakhri's observations about the Sun-Temple, including locational details.[4] Maclean argues that had the site been transformed into an Ismaili mosque, Maqdisi would have found it worthy of mention; he rejects attempts to resolve this discrepancy by having the local Hindus reconstruct the temple in the intervening years since it would have involved demolition of the new mosque under Ismaili watch.[4] Overall, it could not have been the Sun Temple which was mentioned in the letter and the Sun Temple was demolished only after Maqdisi's visit; such a demolition might have been a pattern or not depending on whether the letter was propaganda and whether Al-Biruni was accurate.[4][h]

Al-Biruni, visiting the site in early 11th century, came across desolate ruins.[6] Muhammad al-Idrisi's geographical compendium (mid 12th century C.E.[18]) not only reproduced Istakhri's narrative in entirety but also added that the temple dome was gilded and that the idol — of unknown antiquity — had four arms; however, he had never visited Multan and in all likelihood, the novel additions were from earlier travelogues.[6] Ibn al-Athir, who probably did not visit Multan either, deemed the idol to be of Job.[7]

Late-Mughal and Colonial India[edit]

Cunningham's map of the fort complex.

Jean de Thévenot visiting Multan in 1666, under Aurzangzeb's rule (1658–1707), mentions a Hindu temple[i] attracting pilgrims from far and wide, whose offerings contributed to the provincial exchequer – the description of the idol ran similar to Istakhri's though he claimed ignorance about the identity of deity.[6] Thus, it appears that the temple was restored at an unknown time.

Alexander Cunningham, visiting Multan in 1853, noted local tradition to blame Aurangzeb for destructing the temple though no inhabitant was able to identify the site;[j] he was also told that the Sikhs, upon not finding a trace of the temple when Ranjit Singh had occupied the town in 1818, converted a venerated tomb to a Gurdwara.[20][k] Deriving from etymological arguments, he reasoned the site of the recently-destructed[l] Jami Masjid to be the most-probable spot.[20] However, it is doubtful if Cunningham was accurate;[13] his claim of coming across coins of local rulers, from around the site, inscribed with the Sun God, has been rejected by modern scholars.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ For details on the production of Baladhuri's text and its sources, consult Lynch, Ryan J. (August 2021). Arab Conquests and Early Islamic Historiography: The Futuh al-Buldan of al-Baladhuri. I. B. Tauris. ISBN 9780755644681.
  2. ^ The Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan is held to have had personally consented to this proposal.[5] However, this is an anachronism; the Caliph was long-dead by the time Qasim had his eyes set on Indian frontiers.[5]
  3. ^ Al-biruni would note the gems to be rubies but he did not see the (since-destructed) idol.
  4. ^ A tenth-century bronze idol of Surya from Mansura attests to the continuity of the solar cult even under Muslim rule.[15] Mints of Arabic Governors had both Hindu and Islamic inscriptions on the obverse, probably pointing to a heteropraxic governance.[15]
  5. ^ Al-Muqaddasi, visiting Multan in 985, found the majority to be Shi'as.
  6. ^ Older historians have generally (and incorrectly) assumed Jalan to have usurped power by overthrowing the Abbasid sovereigns.[4]
  7. ^ The old mosque was also shut, which would be only restored by Mahmud of Ghazni during the sacking of Sindh, c. 1005.[17][15]
  8. ^ MacLean raises the possibility of the temple being razed during the Ghaznavid invasion. In addition, Anandapala had prevented passage of Ghazni troops to attack Multan — if the Ismaili Emirate (or at least Fateh Daud) can be assumed to be an ally of the Hindu Shahis, the destruction event looks more implausible.
  9. ^ The precise term was "Catry Pagoda".
  10. ^ Aurangzeb is also reputed of having massacred thousand of Hindus in Multan for desecration of Muslim shrines.[19] In his days as a Governor of Multan (1648–1652), he had fostered cordial relationships with prominent local Muslims to the extent that Dara Shukoh failed to win Multan's support for his bid to the Mughal throne, despite offering to pay twenty five thousand rupees to the Shrine of Bahauddin Zakariya.
  11. ^ The mausoleum is supposed to house the remains of Pir Shams (fl. 12th century), an Ismaili preacher of Iranian descent who was sent by the imams of Alamut and played an important role in the spread of Satpanth. However, local traditions dispute this and claim an association of the tomb with Shams Tabrizi, who is argued to have not died in Qonya but escaped to Multan by "walking on the sea."
  12. ^ It is not known when the mosque was commissioned. The mosque got re-provisioned into a powder magazine by Diwan Mulraj's forces during the Siege of Multan and was blown up on the morning of 30 December 1848 upon being shelled by East India Company.[20][21] The explosion destroyed many other structures in the fort, combusted the city-granary, and killed hundreds.[21] Charlie Pollard, an officer of the Bengal Engineers wrote:[21]

    I saw an extraordinary dense mass, black as ink, with a clearly defined outline, rising slowly out of the fort. Gradually as it rose the upper part spread out assuming the form of a gigantic tree, but losing its sharp outline in upper air till it became a dark brown cloud hanging as a pall over the fort and city.

    It was evident too that within that dark mass were certain solid bodies, whether the debris of building or human beings it was impossible to say, hurled some hundreds of feet upwards and looking like specks in the air...


  1. ^ Bronkhorst, Johannes (2014–2015). "The Magas". Brahmavidyā: The Adyar Library Bulletin. 78–79: 459–486.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Cummins, Joan Marie (2001). Dual darśana: Re-addressing the Sūrya icon (Thesis). Columbia University. ProQuest 304688353.
  3. ^ a b c Wink, André (1997). Al- Hind: The slave kings and the Islamic conquest. 2, Volume 1. BRILL. pp. 187–188. ISBN 9789004095090.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Maclean, Derryl (1989). Religion and society in Arab Sind. Monographs and Theoretical Studies in Sociology and Anthropology in Honour of Nels Anderson (25). Leiden: Brill. pp. 134–136. ISBN 978-90-04-08551-0.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Friedmann, Yohanan (1972). "The Temple of Multān: A note on early Muslim attitudes to idolatry". Israel Oriental Studies. II: 176–182. ISSN 0334-4401.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Mirchandani, B. D. (1968). "Sun Temple of Multan". Journal of Indian History. 46 (2).
  7. ^ a b c Ali, Hassan (December 2015). "SurajKund: A Lost Icon in the hagiography of Shah Shams in Multan" (PDF). Journal of Historical Studies. 1 (2): 80–94.
  8. ^ Laoust, H. (24 April 2012), "Ibn al-D̲j̲awzī", Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Brill, retrieved 6 March 2022
  9. ^ a b Asif, Manan Ahmed (2016). A Book of Conquest: The Chachnama and Muslim Origins in South Asia. Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674660113.
  10. ^ Miquel, A. (24 April 2012), "al-Iṣṭak̲h̲rī", Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Brill, retrieved 6 March 2022
  11. ^ Pellat, Ch (24 April 2012), "al-Masʿūdī", Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Brill, retrieved 6 March 2022
  12. ^ Miquel, A. (24 April 2012), "Ibn Ḥawḳal", Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Brill, retrieved 6 March 2022
  13. ^ a b c d Hasan, Shaikh Khurshid (2008). Pakistan: Its Ancient Hindu Temples and Shrines. Islamabad, Pakistan: National Institute of Historical and Cultural Research, Quaid-i-Azam University. pp. 86–88. ISBN 978-969-415-081-9.
  14. ^ Fück, J. W. (24 April 2012), "Ibn al-Nadīm", Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Brill, retrieved 6 March 2022
  15. ^ a b c d e Flood, Finbarr Barry (2009). Objects of Translation: Material Culture and Medieval "Hindu-Muslim" Encounter. Princeton University Press. pp. 19, 37, 39, 42, 155, 279, 297. ISBN 9780691125947.
  16. ^ Kassam, Tazim R. (August 1995). "Rethinking the Emergence and Significance of Satpanth Isma'ilism". Songs of Wisdom and Circles of Dance: Hymns of the Satpanth Isma'ili Muslim Saint, Pir Shams. New York: State University of New York Press. pp. 43–45. ISBN 9780791425916.
  17. ^ Jain, Meenakshi, ed. (2011). The India They Saw – Foreign Accounts: 8th to 15th Centuries. Delhi: Ocean Books (p) Ltd. pp. 138–139, 226. ISBN 9788184301076.
  18. ^ Oman, G. (24 April 2012), "al-Idrīsī", Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Brill, retrieved 6 March 2022
  19. ^ Ross, David (1883). The Land of the Five Rivers and Sindh: Historical & Descriptive Sketches. London: Chapman and Hall. p. 101.
  20. ^ a b c Cunnngham, Alexander (1875). ARCHAEOLOGICAL SURVEY OF INDIA VOL.5. The Superintendent of Government, Calcutta. p. 119.
  21. ^ a b c Singh, Amarpal (2017). The Second Anglo-Sikh War: 1848–49. Delhi: HarperCollins. pp. 504–506. ISBN 9789352773282.